Poet Laureate: Amanda Gorman

Nicole Murphy, Reporter

On January 20, 2021, poet laureate Amanda Gorman made history as the youngest poet to ever write and perform a piece at an inaugural ceremony. During the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Gorman recited “The Hill We Climb,” a poem about unity, democracy, and overcoming obstacles as a nation. She began writing the piece several weeks prior to the Inaugration but didn’t finish until January 6, 2021, when pro-Trump rioters stormed the US capitol building. Gorman stated that she was not at all surprised by the event, as America is a place with a messy, complicated history which cannot be ignored or disregarded. This sentiment worked its way into her inaugural poem, in which she recognized the “scars and wounds” of our country. Gorman’s interest in poetry began at a young age when her teacher shared the poem “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury to her third grade class. In an interview with the LA Times, she stated that Bradbury’s words “reverberated” inside of her, teaching her the power of poetic language and inspiring her to begin writing poetry of her own. A year prior, her involvement in public speaking and performance began when she recited a monologue as Chief Osceola of the Seminole tribe in Florida. Gorman’s mother, a teacher, was also an essential part of her fascination with poetry, instilling in her the power of language and the ways in which it can shape and impact others, especially youth.

Growing up, Amanda Gorman attended New Roads School, a diverse private school in Santa Monica, California. She reiterates the impact that shuttle rides around Santa Monica had on her when she was younger, as they demonstrated the significant socioeconomic divides among the counties and neighborhoods she passed through on her way to school. Issues such as race and class are a common theme in many of her pieces, likely influenced by her upbringing. Another personal experience that frequently influences Gorman’s work is her speech impediment, which affects her ability to say certain letters, specifically the letter “R.” Although this can be an obstacle at times when performing, Gorman does not let it hold her back, and speaks openly about her struggles with it, often stating that it provided her with greater perspective regarding overcoming challenges.

At the age of 16, Gorman was named youth poet laureate of Los Angeles, only to become the National Poet Laureate three years later in 2017. These two major accomplishments established a title for Gorman, certainly setting her apart from many other poets her age. These achievements, along with her overall character and talent, were what caught the attention of First Lady Jill Biden, who was stunned by Gorman and convinced the inaugural team that she was a perfect speaker for the event.

At only 22 years old, Amanda Gorman is a stunning example for all young artists across the country, demonstrating the true power of language and the importance of determination. Her first publication, “Change Sings,” the first of two children’s poetry books, will be released in September of 2021. She says that she created the book in hopes to inspire young children to view themselves as “change-makers in history, rather than observers.”